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The fourth quarter hasn’t been kind at all to Syracuse this season.

It’s turned back-and-forth games into blowouts, with three quarters of competitive play somehow leading to crooked scores.

Most times, it's taken a few minutes for the fourth quarter damage to kick in.  Against Pittsburgh, it only took eight seconds.  Tyler Boyd took a quick screen 49 yards, untouched, into the end zone on the first play of the quarter. It gave the Panthers a commanding 27-7 lead, one last backbreaker in a season that’s been full of them for Syracuse.

Chris McCullough’s career-high 20 points gave Syracuse its second half lead. But it turned out to be a well-timed defensive play that sealed it.

The 6-foot-10 freshman saved the game for Syracuse and avoided a near-colossal collapse to Iowa in Madison Square Garden when he intercepted a pass near the basket at the end of the game.  The Hawkeyes slashed their deficit from 15 points to one and had the ball in the final seconds.  McCullough slid over from the free throw line, intercepted an entry pass and was fouled with about nine seconds left. 

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Syracuse’s roller coaster offense finally hit a new low.

The inconsistent and, sometimes, inefficient scoring attack has already led to two close calls this season – in a preseason win over Carleton and last weekend against Hampton.  The third time, however, wasn’t the charm for Syracuse, who wasn’t as lucky in Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

Jack Marion

The No. 4 Syracuse women’s field hockey team looks to reach its first national championship in team history on Friday afternoon.  The Orange (17-5) faces top-ranked North Carolina (19-3) in the Final Four at 2 p.m. in College Park, Md.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” head coach Ange Bradley said after beating Penn State in the quarterfinals on Saturday. 

Added Bradley, “I’m just so proud of these young women. They are a really special group.”

It’s Syracuse's second trip to the Final Four in three seasons.

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One smooth shot finally brought the tentative Carrier Dome crowd to its feet.

With nine minutes left in the game, Hampton cut Syracuse’s lead down from 11 to five and the upset bid went from a prayer to a possibility.

That’s when Trevor Cooney took a Tyler Roberson handoff and nailed a three pointer from the top of the key.  Syracuse took a 48-40 lead with 8:53 left in the game and never led by fewer than six points for the rest of the way. It was only Cooney’s second three of the game, but it came at the perfect time for the Orange. 

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Jim Boeheim knew he could rely on Rakeem Christmas for some lockdown defense.  But he may not have expected his senior center to be Syracuse’s offensive leader, as well.

With Michael Gbinije inactive for undisclosed reasons, Christmas picked up the slack and scored a career-high 21 points in Syracuse’s season opener.  It ignited the Orange to an easy 89-42 win against Kennesaw State on Friday night in the Carrier Dome.

“When he’s near the basket, he’s going to finish or get fouled,” Jim Boeheim said.  “He’s a good offensive player and he’s gotten better every year.”

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Syracuse’s 2014 bowl hopes – already diminished by back-to-back losses to Clemson and NC State – took one final blow on Saturday. 

The Orange lost to the No. 21 Duke Blue Devils, 27-10, in the Carrier Dome for its seventh loss of the season.  That means Syracuse (3-7, 1-5 ACC) no longer has a chance for bowl eligibility, after reaching the postseason in three of the past four seasons.

"It hurts," Scott Shafer said.  "It’s a difficult situation because that’s one of those goals that we wanted to come back and reach. But we didn’t. So what are you going to do?"

Cole Murphy just wanted to play football.

But when he decided to join his high school team, his parents gave him only one option.

“You can play, but you can only be kicker,” he said.

For Murphy, the decision to kick has been a good one.  The true freshman at Syracuse has been almost flawless since taking over for Ryan Norton earlier in the season. He’s 12-14 on field goals, including a 50-yarder in back-to-back games.

Close, but not close enough.

The theme of Syracuse’s season continued as the Orange lost, 24-17, in heartbreaking fashion to the NC State Wolfpack.

Cole Murphy’s 50-yard field goal and Syracuse’s successful onside kick set up a dramatic finish that few of the 40,787 fans could have expected.  The Orange took over at its own 46 after Dyshawn Davis – by rule – wasn’t able to advance a recovered onside kick.  So Syracuse set up with 17 seconds and no timeouts left, needing a game-tying touchdown.

AJ Long’s picture perfect start to his college career came crashing down to earth with one quick play. 

It was Syracuse’s first offensive play in Death Valley.  The freshman quarterback dropped back to pass and Clemson’s defensive pressure rushed in, as expected, and engulfed the pocket.  Tigers’ linebacker Stephone Anthony dropped Long for a sack.

“He didn’t play very well,” offensive coordinator Tim Lester said.  “He played like a freshman and made a lot of mistakes. He has to take care of the ball better.”

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